Cruz Puts Forth Measure to Extend Commercial Spaceflight Learning Period

Sen. Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz

Against the wishes of federal regulators, the commercial spaceflight industry would get another five years to learn lessons — and, hopefully, actually fly someone into space — under a bill being sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

That’s the word from SpaceNews, which says it has obtained a draft of the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act set for markup on May 20 by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The measure would extend restrictions on the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority to regulate the still nascent industry until 2020.

The limits were first put in place in 2004, then extended for three years in 2012. They are due to expire on Sept. 30.

George Nield, who heads up the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, said six months before the fatal SpaceShipTwo crash last year that he wants the quasi-moratorium to end in September. He said that there are safety regulations that can be formulated based on 50 years of human spaceflight. He added that without some basic regulations, irresponsible companies with poor safety practices can enter the industry.

Industry representatives have been adamant that companies need more time to test and fly their vehicles before the government steps in with regulations.  They largely discount the value of safety lessons learned in previous human spaceflight to their ventures at this stage.

The FAA does have authority to formulate safety rules in response to specific accidents, such as the crash of SpaceShipTwo last October. However, it cannot stray beyond responding to the specifics of a particular accident and formulate rules for the entire industry.

The agency’s main responsibility is to protect the “uninvolved public”, i.e., people on the ground who are not involved in the flight. These regulations focus on safety of spaceport operations and conducted flights over sparsely populated areas.

In the wake of the SpaceShipTwo crash, the FAA said that their efforts to protect the uninvolved public had succeeded. What is not widely known is that those efforts nearly failed. SpaceShipTwo’s cockpit, which contained Mike Alsbury, crashed into a road seconds after two truck drivers had passed the spot driving in opposite directions.

Whether the drivers would have been injured or killed by the debris is uncertain; the outcome would have depended upon exactly where the debris hit the vehicles and protections afforded by the truck cabs. However, it is clear that the sparsely populated desert area where the cockpit crashed had more people in it due to repairs being done on a nearby road and the construction of a solar power farm.

Congress approved the quasi-moratorium in 2004, a year marked by the first successful privately-funded human spaceflights by Mojave Aerospace Ventures’ SpaceShipOne. With Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic promising commercial passenger service by 2007, Congress approved an eight learning period that would give Virgin Galactic and other operators time to begin flying their vehicles and gain experience before the FAA developed any regulations.

With no one having flown to space during the initial eight-year period, Congress approved a three-year extension in 2012. Since that extension, no crewed spacecraft have traveled anywhere near space even as the death toll in the industry has mounted. Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury died last October when SpaceShipTwo broke up over the Mojave Desert. Three Scaled employees were killed in a test stand explosion in 2007.

  • Hemingway

    Cruz is outright stupid!

  • Michael J. Listner

    There are a lot of people here who are authorities on stupid and most of them are experts because they have a lot of personal experience being so.

  • Right, but with regards to NASA and commercial space flight, we have bipartisan support for stupid. On the one hand, we have the Donna and Eddie show. On the other hand, the Lamar Smith and Ted Cruz show.

    Stupid is as stupid does. Add a lot of corruption for the current result. The entertainment value of these corrupt assholes is priceless though.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Mr. Cruz seems to be a respectable man, who knows from its own family what poorness and effort means. His father came to USA from Cuba without anything and did not speak any English word, but enabled his son this career.

  • windbourne

    Funny thing is that I love the moratorium. I thought that companies were going to be responsible.
    Now, after watching VG, I have to question my belief on this.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Mr. Cruz seems to be a respectable man, who knows from its own family
    what poorness and effort means. His father came to USA from Cuba without
    anything and did not speak any English word, but enabled his son this

  • Well that certainly justifies his stupidity and vile unveiled corruption.

  • Michael J. Listner

    As the son of a legal immigrant who became a citizen, I can appreciate Senator Cruz if not for his politics then for his tenacity to be a self-made individual. You can’t graduate from Harvard Law School and argue multiple times in front of the United State Supreme Court and be stupid.

  • Michael J. Listner

    In your opinion. Just because he isn’t supporting NASA earth sciences, which when you think about it is a jobs program just like those here who revile SLS contend that program is, then that makes him corrupt.

    But since you seem to have this subjective sense of moral superiority, I guess you’re in a better position to judge, even though it won’t mean squat to those who can see through your ramblings.

  • No problem, but your vote where your mouth is. It’s all you’ve got when it come to the corporate kleptocracy formerly known as the United States of America. Stupid is as stupid does.

  • There are distinct differences between science and natural laws and made up nonsense laws forced onto people by lawyers and politicians as a result of outright lies, kickbacks and payoffs.

  • ThomasLMatula

    “What is not widely known is that those efforts nearly failed.
    SpaceShipTwo’s cockpit, which contained Mike Alsbury, crashed into a
    road seconds after two truck drivers had passed the spot driving in
    opposite directions.”

    To be honest this is one of the reasons I have really wondered how Mojave was able to get a spaceport license given the population and activities surrounding it.

    One of the advantages of Spaceport America is that WSMR airspace would be available for flight testing which would eliminate any dangers to uninvolved third parties. Indeed, one reason the site selected was so remote was because it was under the WSMR “call up” zone, an area of very low population that could be cleared for ballistic missile tests.That is why there is no issue with the numerous sounding rocket flights launched from it.

    It was also the reason proposed sites that already had infrastructure in place, like Roswell Air Center, were excluded when the site location decision was made in the 1990’s. If the working groups in the 1990’s had known the FAA would get so lax in its spaceport standards a different site would likely have been selected. I wonder if the FAA ever really understood the implications of the rocket flight debris maps WSMR generated based on their 50 years of experience with test flights…

    BTW the same also applies to the Midland spaceport where the population density is higher than even Mojave. It would be interesting if one of the results of the report would be to require test flights to be moved to a more remote and safer locations like Spaceport America. Probably, since those truckers didn’t get hurt they will just let it slide.

  • Michael J. Listner

    And yet science is infested with politics. You revile lawyers and politicians yet what you don’t want to see is that “science” is rift with the same corruption and nonsense you unceasingly complain about here.

  • Douglas Messier

    Marcia Smith at Space Policy Online is reporting the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will mark up four measures on Wednesday focused on commercial space. One of them is the SPACE Act which will be an update of the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA).

    Two major provisions include extending the learning period and the government’s indemnification of the launch industry for third party damages until 2023.

  • When lawyers and politicians are either legislating the laws of physics or performing research and publishing results, get back to me. You live in a corporate kleptocracy.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Perhaps it’s better if we both just ignore each other henceforth Thomas. Your false sense of righteous indignation is nauseating.

  • My righteous indignation comes from the territory I inhabit, Michael. Science works. Legislation and prayer, not so much.

    Unless, of course, your goal is to milk the rubes of more cash.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Like I said; it’s better we ignore each other.

  • There is no ‘we; here, Michael, there is just ‘you’. So go ahead and ignore me. But don’t expect others to buy into your demands, or your expectations may very well be ignored.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Grow up.

  • Why should I? So I can become an asshole just like you?

    And miss out on all the great science? No thank you.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Coming from you that is a glowing compliment.

  • You are free to ignore my comments, ignore my science and ignore my fundamental technology recommendations, it doesn’t bother me a bit one way or another. Carbon dioxide, population and land use pressures, religious nuttery and financial and agricultural collapse will continue to squeeze your world, which as far as I can see is already breaking. It looks to me like job security for politicians and lawyers. The fall of civilization can’t be pretty, and they’ll need you guys.

  • Michael J. Listner

    I suppose you’re the expert on “nuttery” so I will defer to your wisdom.

  • Indeed I am, and in the world of nuttery, the NASA/Congress/Executive Branch/American public nuttery takes the cake.

    SLS and Orion and religious American nutjobs in congress attempting to legislate the laws of physics and engineering best practices is a source of endless amusement for me. Especially when they start complaining things aren’t working.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Yeah, we’ve gotten to the point where I won’t expend any more mental energy, do and *insert-eye-roll-here* and move on to more important matters.

  • Who is we again? Yes, get out there and defend NASA and the SLS and Orion, criticize SpaceX and their hobby rocket and pass some laws to hobble the American space program.

    It’s what you do best, It’s all you do. You’re a space lawyer.

  • Michael J. Listner

    It’s better than being a space troll.

  • Space trolling has gotten me useful results over the years, and so I think I’ll just stick with it, since it takes but a tiny fraction of my time and occasionally exposes me to great nutty ideas.